A few thoughts on leadership in a collaborative world

In a context of collaborative innovation, how does leadership change? How does leading interfaces with collaborating?

I look at leadership as a sum of hard and soft skills, which evolve during our life. Competencies are behaviours, ways of doing things.

In theory, we can do things with or without other people’s involvement. This is a first, important point. We can have non people-related (which we often call hard) competencies, where our ability to do things does not necessarily depends on interacting with others. For example,orientation to results (how determined we are towards achieving our goals) could be measured in situations where interaction is absent, if only for the sake of the argument. Other hard skills include all sorts of technical skills required for our job, plus a number of additional competencies such as market knowledge and even strategic orientation. In abstract, again, one’s ability to craft a business’ crucial strategic lines does not necessarily require immediate collaboration with other people. Implementing the strategy does.

Then we have what we often call soft competencies, or people-related competencies. These are ways of doing things which can only happen through relating to other people. It can be through collaborating with colleagues or influencing them (what we call collaboration & influencing) or leading and motivating a team (team leadership), or changing the way a group of people works (change leadership).

One of the simplest, perhaps most banal yet best kept secrets is that after a certain point, rather early on in life, hard skills start to decline in absolute terms. The very same me today is clearly far less results-oriented, all things being equal, than I was ten years ago. It takes me more effort to be updated, to reach a similar level of knowledge.

At the same time, “social”, interpersonal skills, by then, take off. For best-in-class talent, they continue to grow over time. From that point onwards, growth in soft skills more than offsets the decline in hard skills. The same me today, all things being equal, can be far more effective in interacting with others than I was years ago.

The sum of hard and soft competencies is a proxy for leadership, as well as for one’s satisfaction, and can be measured.

Both our leadership and our satisfaction grow, from a certain point in time on, if we are able to more than compensate a decline in hard skills through an increase of hard in soft skills. In other words, all of our incremental satisfaction, from a certain point on, depends entirely on our ability to grow interpersonally.

The key message of all this is the following: what we do is important, that’s clear. More important, though,is for and with whom we do what we do, whose needs we address through what we do. This opens up an entirely new element, which we’ve kept unconscious for so long. We live a life of overexposure to connecting, not the opposite. How do we sharpen the focus, then?

Growing interpersonally means becoming better at leading a team, but, even before that, better at collaborating and influencing people. Collaborating means connecting effectively, persuading, understanding, listening to their needs, identifying needs and selecting those we like to satisfy. All of this requires the ability to connect, and to do so in a wise manner, through careful selection. Selection is choice. Choosing whom we like requires thinking, open thinking, and listening, making room for other people’s needs.

Most of us would highly benefit from broader focus on relationship and connection.

Tommaso Arenare 

 @tommaso_arenare

This post is my contribution to “Making Weconomy 04 – Human (R)evolution“, an open access paper which can be found here.

Three dimensions for more effective leadership of #diverseboards: rethinking the role of the Chair

Even if with a margin for improvement, yet Boards are diversifying rapidly – in terms of gender, nationality, culture and outloook. The Egon Zehnder 2012 European Board Diversity Analysis signalled that the number of women Non Executive Directors had increased four times across Europe over the prior eight years. There are large countries (Italy is an example) where the number is growing even further. We believe this trend will also affect the US and gradually other countries globally.

In addition, we have observed that a significant increase in gender diversity typically translate into further diversity: diversity of backgrounds, diversity of geographies (with an increase in international board members), diversity of age (generally, younger board members sitting at the table will also increase the variety of perspectives).

As Boards become more diverse, differences create a huge opportunity for those very Chairs to leverage on them, learning additional competencies to draw in diverse Board members, build on their insights and ensure livelier debate and board leaderhip. In addition, new Non Executive Directors, joining Boards with ever broader diversity, carefully scrutinise how Chairs leverage their additional, diverse capabilities and competencies.

This change is rapidly making an impact on all key competencies of a good  Chair, even more so than on all other Board members.  Running the risk of oversimplifying, a Chair will need to adapt along the following dimensions:

  • Inclusive leadership & team effectiveness: in the new, more diverse environment, in addition to key interpersonal skills (such as collaboration & influencing skills, but also their Board Leadership, as well as their Coaching & Developing skills), a Chair will need to work towards greater inclusive leadership and team effectiveness. Leaders with a diverse team will face viewpoints that have not been expressed before. New generation Chairs will need to facilitate an inclusive environment in order to appreciate and combine the knowledge and experience of individuals with different backgrounds and viewpoints;
  • Listening & trust building in a more diverse environment: this is an additional and crucial component of a Chair’s ability to succeed when leading a diverse Board. Listening means the ability to suspend one’s agenda and judgement, making room for other people’s thoughts, ever more so in a more diverse environment. In the life of a diverse Board, listening implies being able to remain silent for long, in order to gather sufficient elements for making up one’s own opinion. Also, listening means being capable of asking proper, effective, most of the time open-ended questions, both during the Board sessions and, even more importantly, between them. A diverse set of perspectives requires the Chair to be more skilled at facilitating discussions and soliciting input from members of the team that come from less assertive cultures or personalities. Chairpersons will find that they will have to seek the opinion of more introverted colleagues and they will need to facilitate and navigate the more complex discussions into a conclusion that all members respect, if not agree with. In some instances, this will imply the seeking out of a point of view, its recognition, and then the ability to keep engaged even those colleagues whose point of view might not have prevailed. Discussions among diverse groups will require higher energy to lead them successfully, avoiding excessive confrontation;
  • Dealing with unconscious biases: the Chair will need to influence the Board’s decision making process with the ability to establish effective communication channels with all board members, no exception. In order to do this,  broader diversity of the Board will also require that the Chairs learn how to identify and deal with two crucial unconscious biases which can hamper effective, independent decision making at Board level. They will to tweak some consequences of two unconscious biases through a little nudge. Similarity bias happens when we select people that are more similar to us, as opposed to people who appear more different. Evolution has fostered this trait, as a key manner to survive ever since the difficult times when we would live in the savannah, trying to escape from animals and all sorts of dangers. A “similarity bias” results when individuals are more likely to imitate cultural models that are perceived as being similar to the individual, based on specific traits (such, for instance, age, gender, geographical location and so on…). Similarity bias is even enhanced by our other bias, which we call snap judgement, whereby we unconsciously make up our mind on someone during the first milliseconds after we meet. The combination of snap judgements and similarity biases is the one reason why gender diversity (but also age diversity, geographic diversity and possibly many other aspects of diversity) is so difficult to happen without a little nudge. Effective Chairs will learn to nudge themselves towards overcoming both unconscious biases.

All the above requires growing levels of self-awareness from Board members and Chairpersons. The journey towards the benefits of greater diversity and inclusion at Board level has started. I am convinced that it will continue to be a satisfying and rewarding experience.

Tommaso Arenare

A year ago and another good example

It was a year ago, 24 August of 2011.

Steve Jobs wrote this now famous letter to the Board of Apple:

To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community:

I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know.

Unfortunately, that day has come.

I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.

As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.

I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.

I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.

Steve

A year has gone. Three sentences strike me when reading this today:

  • “If there ever came a day (…), I would be the first to let you know”
  • “I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple”
  • “I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it”

Here’s an excellent “Progress Report”, one year later, by Fortune’s @adamlashinsky.

So many times we realise how difficult it is to be an example in stepping down after identifying and growing a successor.

Leadership succession is yet another area where Steve Jobs has reshaped existing paradigms, for the better.

This deserves to be remembered.

Tommaso Arenare

In praise of effective leadership and CEOs who can cast off

A stimulating and thought-provoking piece of Andrew Hill in the Financial Times aims at discussing “Rules of engagement for leaders on holidays”.

I particularly favour his view that

CEOs who do succeed in casting off (…) will benefit not only from the holiday, but from the improvement in mutual trust with their senior team when they return.

Establishing and fostering mutual trust amongs senior team members is a crucial mark of distinction for a successful CEO and a capable leader. Taking a good couple of weeks off can actually do a lot of good to colleagues if the CEO succeeds in empowering them properly and making them feel so.

This needs to happen, however, during the CEO’s entire tenure. Building a sense of delegation within the CEO’s team is at the same time very critical and quintessentially distinctive of a great leader.

I would even go as far as to say that the ability to take a proper break and cast off successfully (including properly facing emergencies or surprises) is a great indicator of someone capable to delegate and perhaps even someone good at devising, in proper course, a successor.

In addition to building trust amongst team members, Hill also very properly points out, in order for a CEO to be able to take a proper break, they will also need to be well-informed, so as to face emergencies effectively. Selecting how they can be well-informed is another more general competency of a good CEO. It is always a fascinating experience to see how good CEOs succeed in accessing an effective selection of instruments to guarantee they are informed. In this respect, personal relationship with key influencers is always a great tool for great leaders to ensure they access relevant info at the relevan moment in time. In every CEO’s relevant information space, we want to rapidly identify people we like and we trust, also as crucial sources of information, even in case of emergency.

In summary, delegation and personal relationship are key to a CEO’s ability to be a great leader, as they are for the CEO’s own ability to take a restful, effective and fully satisfying vacation break.

Disrupting wisely

Disruption as a source of value in someone’s professional history has been the subject of a number of recent HBR posts, including one from Whitney Johnson and one from Claudio Fernández Aráoz, an undisputed thought leader on the subject of making #greatpeopledecisions.

Disruption requires the ability to create a disconnect, learn and benefit from it.

Creating a disconnect requires awareness, courage and empathy: it requires awareness of our feelings and fears, as we initially often fear disconnects,  while we like dealing with the same and again; it requires courage to recognise our fears and move on, temporarily leaving our comfort zone, so as to grow it over time; it also requires empathy so as to put ourselves into somebody else’s shoes, being able to share our thoughts, listening and learning.

Creating a disconnect requires unconventional wisdom, being able to pause and think, taking the time to find people who inspire us, connecting with them and sharing thoughts with them.

Disruption is listening, creating room for those we like, asking open questions, then keeping silent so as to absorb as much “open thinking” as possible.

Disruption is being as innovative and open as our ability to connect to people who can contribute, share their voice, and again inspire us.

Disruption is luck, being open to luck, knowing that luck will play its role and not fearing it. Disruption is dropping “career” for “choice” or, as Gianpiero Petriglieri puts it, creating your own “work of art”.

Disruption is knowing how to look for the next positive Black Swan, as good as the people we like. Disruption means dealing with Obliquity, or looking for our next move knowing in advance that the only thing we know is that we don’t know what’s next.

Disruption is finding satisfaction in people we work with, rather than in what we do.

Disruption is connecting wisely.

Tommaso Arenare

Leadership, one Marshmallow and emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups.

This is about Emotional Intelligence as a key factor in ensuring our success as leaders and in making “great people decisions”.

The marshmallow experiment is a test conducted by Walter Mischel at Stanford University and discussed by Daniel Goleman in “Emotional Intelligence”, his 1996 book. In the 1960s, a group of four-year olds were given a marshmallow and promised another, only if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one. Some children could wait and others could not.

The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence, and demonstrated that those with the ability to wait, or to postpone gratification, hence with greater emotional intelligence, had a far happier and more successful existence by many different measures (starting, for example from scoring an average of 210 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test).

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz is a great colleague and a top global expert on hiring and promotion decisions, repeatedly chosen by Business Week as one of the most influential search consultants in the world.

In a keynote speech at the World Business Forum in New York, Claudio demonstrated the importance of emotional intelligence in making great people decisions.

Inspired by the ‘Marshmallow Experiment’, Claudio presented the results of his own analysis of the three most important characteristics in potential job candidates. While the researchers from Stanford found a correlation between grabbing a marshmallow at the age of four and having behavioural problems in school or drugs problems in later life, Araóz focused on characteristics such as previous work experience, emotional intelligence and IQ.

He discovered that the best predictor of successful hiring was actually strong emotional intelligence. Even more so, lack of emotional intelligence was a very strong predictor of failure.

Awareness of oneself and one’s relationships is more important in being successful than either previous work experience or IQ. Emotional intelligence can help us predict failures in relationships, selecting the right people and in identifying great leaders.

Emotional intelligence is what we need to foster in ourselves and to look for in other people.

Tommaso Arenare

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare

Female leadership, Italy, diversity and the beauty of leading by example

This is about celebrating gender diversity and exceptional women in Italy sending a message in favour of exceptional female talent anywhere.

On 7 May 2012, in Brussels,Viviane Reding, Vice President of the European Commission, in charge of Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Lella Golfo, Member of the Italian Parliament, Alessia Mosca, Member of the Italian Parliament and Federiga Bindi, Director of the Istituto Italiano di Cultura of Brussels united to celebrate and send a message (picture below).

The case of Italy was chosen as a best practice for both a properly working law on diverse boards and the positive effects of its early implementation on overall corporate governance.

Federiga Bindi, Alessia Mosca, Viviane Reding and Lella Golfo on 7 May 2012 in Brussels

Lella Golfo and Alessia Mosca are two exceptional and exceptionally different Italian women and leaders. Both Members of Parliament elected for the first time in 2008, they are, under many points of view, different. Their stories are different, they belong to different parties, they come from different parts of the country, they differ for many aspects.

Diversity, though, is exactly why they succeeded together.

They united, they shared forces, shared thoughts and emotions. They combined different points of view. They listened to each other, they partially adapted their thoughts to each other’s. They managed to turn their (and their respective parties’) differences into a law, which perhaps neither of them would have been in a position to achieve if alone.

Italy’s law on gender diversity for Board of Directors of listed companies (Law n. 120/2011, dated 12 July 2011, the so-called “Golfo Mosca Law”), coming into force on 12 August 2012, requires, in essence, that Italian listed or State controlled companies appoint a fifth (to become a third at the following mandate) of board members as part of the “under represented gender”.

It does so in such a way that it works.

In fact, not only did Alessia Mosca and Lella Golfo lead the approval process of a visionary law. They also continued to work for its early and effective implementation.

As this law mandates for shareholders to change a number of board members, Italian companies have rightly taken it as a great opportunity to make better use of their Boards.

Hence, whilst not yet in effect, this law was actually implemented earlier by a number of Italian corporates, during the Annual General Meeting season of 2012: exceptional women were selected, overall corporate governance improved. Some leading Italian global companies, such as Fiat Chrysler for example, implemented a smaller board, with a view to fostering its effectiveness.

A great sign of good things coming and more to come.

Exceptional female talent is ever more crucial for the success of Italy and Europe, in one of those defining moments, as difficult as they are, where proper and effective use of talent and leadership can, and will make a difference for the better.

 

 

Tommaso Arenare

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare